Guns and Fear, Part 2
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul… Matthew 10:28a
I ended last week’s Life Note by saying there is a reason Jesus taught that we should be willing to give up our lives instead of committing violence against another. It is the same reason he told us not to fear those who can only kill the body. That reason is that our lives are infinitely greater than our time on earth; yet, how we respond during our earthly span of days is impactful on the greater life. That larger life is the kingdom of heaven Jesus spoke so frequently about. It is the life from which our bodily existence arose, in which we live and move today, and into which we consciously return when we die. Jesus invites us into that kingdom while we are still on earth and encourages us to participate in bringing that kingdom to earth for everyone.
Jesus was not saying we should be careless with our lives. He himself was cautious about spending too much time near the Jewish leaders during the early parts of his ministry because he knew they would have him killed as his influence grew. Even the night before he was crucified he asked God to reconsider his fate: “…Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me…” (Mark 14:36). He clearly did not relish what he was about to go through. On that night as he prayed, Luke’s gospel records “In his anguish…his sweat became like great drops of blood falling on the ground” (Luke 22:44). Even though he did not look forward to his fate, he knew it was the right and necessary thing to do for the greater life, the kingdom of God, because that greater life is far more important than any individual life including his (and ours). He knew, in a way we can only know by faith, that physical death is not the end but a passage back into the greater life. He showed this by his resurrection.
And this is Jesus’s message to us: It is better for us to surrender our earthly life to violence than to react in a way that perpetuates the violence. Jesus told us not to fear, a command repeated often throughout scripture. When we choose to allay our fear with weapons, however, we miss the message completely. Jesus did not tell us not to fear so that we could save the life we think we’re living. Jesus told us not to fear because our life is much more than the life we think we’re living. If and when we meet violence with violence, we simply perpetuate and expand the violence in our world for this and future generations. Will our one act of laying down our earthly life in a non-violent response, in itself, transform the world into a peaceful co-existence? Probably not. It did not with Jesus’s death. But it will be a step toward that end – one step of many required.
From what I read and understand of Jesus’s life and teachings, there is no other way to bring about peace on earth. Once enough of us commit to non-violent actions and reactions to the violence around us, we will no longer be a threat to those who feel they must otherwise use violence to get what they want or need. When we know our days on earth are but a fraction of the greater life within which we exist, our fear dissipates. Likewise, we come to understand that our possessions are of the earth and will remain on earth after we pass. If someone tries forcibly to take something in our possession, we will not resist violently because it does not belong to us anyway.
Many folks believe self-defense of life and property is a right which cannot be taken from us. While that is true in the context of the laws of this nation, is it the way of a follower of Jesus? It is legal, but is it Christian? Personally, I find it impossible to read the gospels and believe following Jesus requires anything less than non-violent responses to whatever happens to us. I understand it seems non-sensical and counter-cultural. But Jesus’s life and teachings are counter-cultural and often non-sensical. It is why he was crucified. Should we expect less? And his is not the only non-sensical story in the Bible, which is full of them.
I acknowledge that others come to different conclusions and choose to arm themselves against the rampant threats of violence today. How we respond is between us and God; but it does matter. The life and teachings of Jesus are difficult to follow, and I am far from a consistently faithful follower. I do believe, however, that if we are to effectively address today’s violence, following the non-violent model of Jesus will be required.
This is the 3rd in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are my expressions and not those of other individuals or organizations. If you wish to respond to my thoughts, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.